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Success in the end starts at the beginning

Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley Published on 07 February 2018
Walt getting his MBA

I did it. I finished an MBA. And I’ve finally got my nights and weekends back again.

I learned a few things from the journey I hope can be of help to each of you.



One was: You can learn just as much from self-study without footing the bill if you’re disciplined and know where to look. (Find more tips for how to do this by reading How to be your farm's CEO without an MBA.)

Interestingly enough, the most valuable lesson I learned also wasn’t taught by my professors. I hope it will inspire you when times are tough: You’re more likely to succeed if you know what’s motivating you when you start. During these challenging times of low milk prices, and what will surely be future periods as well, discovering your why could be the thing that keeps you going.

My why, or motivation, for getting an MBA was my kids. I finished my first degree before any of them were old enough to see me in a cap and gown. I knew I could always tell them to go to college when the time came without being hypocritical, but I thought it would be more inspiring for them to actually see someone they knew graduate from college in person.

I’d also heard before that kids are likely to achieve the educational status of their parents. The National Center for Education Statistics concurs. They have stated: “The likelihood of enrolling in postsecondary education is strongly related to parents’ education even when other factors are taken into account.”

Researchers have proven parents’ educational pursuits inspire their children to work harder in school and achieve higher levels of education.


So when watching TV instead of studying was a temptation, I drew on this motivation. When going to bed was more enticing than finishing a paper, I envisioned what it would be like to wear a cap and gown again for commencement.

When my weekend calendar was full of homework and a test instead of camping and being outside, I imagined accepting a diploma in a packed arena, with my kids seeing the results of sacrificing fun for a worthy goal.

I wanted to instill in my kids a drive to make difficult goals and show by example how to achieve them. Dairy farmers do the same thing. They build kids’ character through example and working beside them. You, too, sacrifice fun things for something with long-term value.

I would challenge you to consider your why. What gets you out of bed and to the dairy barn each morning? What motivates you to go to work when it’s below freezing? What drives you to pull together financials for your banker to renew your operating loan?

I bet your motivation involves your children or grandchildren. I challenge you to envision your dairy’s end with as much clarity and detail as you possibly can. Do you envision handing over the keys to your children? Do you see yourself mentoring a young, non-family member with a passion for dairying over a period of time? In short, will you leave the dairy on your own terms?

Whether that end is near or not, I know you’ll be more motivated in the middle if you determine now what the closing chapter looks like.


I don’t know if my example of sacrifice and hard work has sunk in yet for my kids. Some days, you probably wonder the same thing about your sacrifice. It may take a few years for both of us to find out.

In the end, I will never forget the confetti falling on all the new Boise State University graduates, including me. The moment was as tearfully happy as I imagined it. Nor will I forget waving to my kids in the balcony as I exited the commencement arena. That day was a happy ending to a purposeful beginning. I hope the same for you and your dairy dream.  end mark

Walt Cooley
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